Michael Scott Column - Feb 08

Tyres, dodgy electronics and the first tests at Jerez: Scottie’s rubs his hands and gets stuck into another round of silly-season antics

Posted: 17 February 2008
by Michael Scott

It’s hard not to feel a pang as Dunlop’s Brummy Army are ushered out of MotoGP, after having been there… well, forever. The company may be owned by Goodyear now, and many of the racing tyres come from Sumitomo in Japan, but the roots remain firmly in Fort Dunlop.

Dunlop were still proper title contenders into the 1990s, but suffered a protracted decline as Michelin gradually took over. Some bad designs led to dwindling interest from teams, gradually throttling the rider feedback so essential to improvement. With bulldog spirit, Dunlop fought back, investing heavily over the last two years in support of Yamaha’s B-team.

The target was always the other Yamahas on Michelin, but to rule out the Rossi factor Dunlop’s main aim was at Edwards. It was satisfying that both their riders, class rookie Guintoli and downbeat Tamada, outqualified Edwards at the last race, and Guintoli beat him to the flag as well.

Too little, too late. But thankfully the Brummies will still be in the paddock, since Dunlop reign supreme in 250 and 125 classes, having fought off both Michelin and Yokohama.

Meanwhile, imagine the midnight cheese-eating sessions at Michelin, as they toil through the night to fight back at all-conquering Bridgestone (now with added Rossi). They want to adopt the universal Japanese industrial mantra: MUST WORK HARDER. The first task, so far unconquered, is to find a way to translate that into French.

On to testing at Jerez, where Stoner blotted a perfect season with a heavy crash at the same corner where his role model Mick Doohan ended his career. The hitherto bullet-proof new champion injured his shoulder (although apparently without damaging the chip), and went home early.

I couldn’t help noticing cheery columnist Randy Mamola remarking that it had been “unnecessary for him to be pushing as hard as he did”.

A dangerous remark. I wrote more or less the same about Doohan: that he’d been going “unnecessarily fast”. The track was still dampish, there was another day of practice left, and there had been little to gain by going so hard he was unable to avoid touching a wet white line.

I still wither under the derision with which Doohan greeted this, almost as soon as he came round from the anaesthetic. “The person who wrote that doesn’t know anything about racing,” he thundered. It’s harder to say that about Randy, but I’m guessing Casey will find a way.

Japan Inc will come back fighting, after being put in the technical shade by little Ducati. Pedrosa’s Honda already passed Stoner’s Desmo in a straight line at the last race.

How will Ducati respond? Why not take a tip from World Superbikes, and get the rules changed. In the production-based series Ducati’s twins now have a potential 200cc capacity advantage over the 1000cc fours. Why not the same in MotoGP? Just because it’s such a small factory, and the lone European. Then they can bring their old 990 Desmo back. With today’s electronics and Stoner on board, that’d blow those Japanese 800s into the weeds.

Tyres were the main source of controversy last season, but the real issue concerns electronics. I predict some hefty battles and soul-searching in the coming year, as Dorna seek urgent action to stop the exponential progress.

It needs a step back to realise just how fast traction control, anti-wheelie and engine-braking control have developed. Veteran rider Alex Barros did that with a year in Superbike, and was staggered by the difference in MotoGP from 2005 to 2007. The main effect, as he, Rossi and others observe, is to level out the differences between the riders. That’s why the likes of Pedrosa and Stoner (say the old boys) can come straight up through 125 and 250 and be on the pace right away.

The secondary effect is to reduce slides and considerably calm down the spectacle, while making the task of riding more accurate and exacting. Overtaking is very difficult, as everyone treads an increasingly narrow line. And the third is to make it boring.

Anyone who has a slipper clutch and mixed-compound tyres on their sports bike (or conversely who has ever ground-looped while trying to wheelie) has GP racing to thank for these solutions, but they won’t care when they watch yet another processional race.

Dorna and their TV contract men won’t care either, and that means restrictions will be coming. Traction control banned? I’m guessing as soon as 2009. For some, that won’t be soon enough. But it’s a bitter blow for old-fart purists like me.

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